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FBI Checks Offer Promise Problems

The Private Security Officer Employment Authorization Act, which gives private companies the option of requesting an FBI background check on prospective security officers, represents a great victory for private security, but the joy of this victory must be tempered by the reality of the remaining obstacles.

The provision, supported by ASIS, was a last-minute addition to the Intelligence Reform Act. But it lays out only the skeleton of how access to FBI databases will work. It says that employers may submit fingerprints to a state identification bureau, which will forward them to the FBI. Details will emerge this June in a draft rulemaking.

Those rules will have to sort out various tricky issues, says Gail Simonton, executive director and general counsel of the National Association of Security Companies (NASCO), which worked with ASIS in supporting the act. For example, provisions will have to address the confidentiality, privacy, and retention of background information provided by the FBI, Simonton says.

In addition, the act gives companies the right to request an FBI check, but it does not mandate one. It’s unclear how widespread adoption will be. 

There is also some question as to whether the FBI will be overwhelmed by the workload if companies do take advantage of this option. The extra requests—especially if paper-based, rather than electronic—that could come from the newly enabled states may slow turnaround time.

Another possible chokepoint will be the states themselves. That was the view of the FBI’s assistant director in charge of the Criminal Justice Information Services Division, Michael D. Kirkpatrick, in congressional testimony.

State identification bureaus “are often under-equipped and understaffed,” he said. “This limits the ability to conduct thorough and timely civil checks and could eventually result in the need to institute some type of prioritization of such checks as the existing infrastructure becomes overloaded.”

It’s also clear that many advocates of the legislation didn’t get everything they pushed for; the legislation scuttled the critical elements of officer training standards, but that was probably unavoidable since those issues had prevented passage of earlier reform efforts, dating back to 1991.

“Did it [the law] go far enough?” asks Dr. Michael Goodboe, chairman of NASCO. “No. We want training and selection standards too.” Still, “It’s a great start.”